OVER A month after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis cleared a file permitting Constable Lalita Salve to undergo a gender reassignment surgery, the office of the Maharashtra Director General of Police (DGP) has recently written to the state Home department contending that as medical tests at a state-run hospital identified her as ‘male’, the leave Salve has sought for undergoing surgery cannot be granted.
“The communique from the Home department states that the constable should be granted permission to undergo surgery but recent medical tests conducted by a government hospital has clearly stated that the constable is a male who was reared as a female,” said a senior police official. “We have brought this report to the notice of the government and asked them to take a decision.”
Asked why the state police is not treating her’s as a special case as directed by the CM, the official said there is no provision to reinduct a female constable who was selected as a lady constable as a male constable.
In her home in Rajegaon village, in Beed district’s Majalgaon taluka, the 29-year-old struggles to keep her spirits up, having received no official word from the office of the state Director General of Police. Having applied to the government to be permitted to undergo gender reassignment surgery in September last year, in March she was elated when the CM cleared her file, but was hopeful of clear directions from the DGP office regarding when she can proceed on medical leave and if she can resume work as a male constable.
“Am I Lalita or Lalit? I have no answer when people ask me. Sometimes I feel suicidal. But then I am the sole breadwinner of my family. The wait is acting as a slow poison. It’s killing me,” says Lalita.
She says life wasn’t always this confusing. “Prior to 2014, I was happy being a girl. I loved doll houses like other girls, and as we couldn’t afford one, I would use soda bottle lids and other trinkets to make a makeshift doll house.”
Born to parents who worked as labourers, Salve would sell candy to villagers. “I used to make 25 paise on every candy, and give the money to my mother,” she says. As the secondborn, and aware of the acute poverty the family faced, she wanted to find a job and found support in an uncle who funded her education. “My job was not a mere source of income but also a matter of pride and respect that was missing from my life,” she says.
Salve says she was operated by a local doctor when she was a teen for what was believed then to be a cyst. “In my teens, I saw a growth near my private parts. I told my parents. A doctor said it was a cyst and did a surgery to remove it. In 2014, I saw a similar growth. I followed the same drill of informing my parents and visiting a doctor. This time, the doctor informed us that it wasn’t a cyst but underdeveloped testicles. Looking at my past medical history he concluded that the earlier doctor removed an underdeveloped testicle,” she reveals. “I blanked out completely. Since then, I live in uncertainty,” she says.
Inducted in Maharashtra Police in 2010 as a woman police constable, Salve has been posted at various police stations in Beed district besides a two-year stint with the Riot Control Police (RCP) of the district. Currently she is posted at the Majalgaon police station and is part of the Damini pathak, a specialised unit formed to nab what the locals call “roadside Romeos”.
No. 48 on the chart enlisting staff details at the Majalgaon police station reads ‘LM Salve – LPC (Lady Police Constable) 722’. Colleagues address her as ‘Salve madam’. They are all concerned for her as well. When she signs the duty muster, which also identifies her as a lady constable, they gather around and ask if the letter about her surgery has arrived. “Everyone in Majalgaon police station is waiting for the order. It makes me feel special,” Salve adds. “What is her fault? It’s natural. She is struggling every day. Sometimes she breaks down but we tell her not to give up,” says constable Haneef Sheikh.
SPO Rajeev Talekar says he was shocked when he read Lalita’s application in September last year. “When I took charge in June last year, I found Lalita unlike a woman. She has a baritone, the hint of a moustache and a boyish charm, but it wasn’t appropriate to ask any personal questions. But in September when I read her application, I was shocked. I had never heard of anything like this before. I decided to read up on this and found there was a case in which a CISF constable had sought a sex change surgery. A doctor friend of mine said that it’s a rare case where a person is reared as a female but might have underdeveloped male genitals. I felt concerned for Lalita and forwarded the application to my senior,” says Talekar.
At the office of the DGP, Lalita’s application was met with mixed reactions. While some were amused, a few were concerned but others held the opinion that it was a case of ‘cheating’ – selected in a quota for women constables, that reservation would cease if she was to be treated as a male constable, some officers said. Others cited selection criteria that are tougher for male constables.
In fact in November last year, the DGP’s office wrote to the state government, batting the matter to them on the grounds that it concerned change in selection rules, something that can be mandated only by the government.
“The selection rules haven’t been amended for decades. It does not mention the third gender or what should be done with an application like this one. In the 21st Century, sexual orientation should not be the criteria to determine professional acumen. It is time the rules are amended,” said a senior police officer who who did not wish to be named.
The latest communication from the DGP office to the Home department means longer daily struggles. “In October last year while appearing before the Bombay High Court I went to the public toilet outside the court. When I went to the toilet meant for men, they directed me to use the ladies’ toilet. I wasn’t comfortable but eventually had to use it. This is one of the many minor struggles,” says Salve, who hasn’t shopped for clothes since 2014, finding the idea of buying clothes suitable to a particular gender overwhelming.
But Salve says she hopes to get the surgery, as the CM had cleared the file as a special case. “And upon discharge, I will join duty as policeman Lalit Salve,” she says. Her uncle Arjun Ujgare, a retired civil servant, says money is not a criteria. “In the application we had sought reimbursement of medical bills, but even if that doesn’t come through, we will manage. We just want her to live a normal and healthy life,” Ujgare says.
At her home at Rajegaon, mother Kesaribai is all praise for her daughter. “She is not a daughter but our son. She has helped both her brothers financially. She bought an autorickshaw for one and helped the other brother get a job. She also financed the wedding of her elder sister,” Kesaribai says proudly. “Once her operation is done. I will find her a girl and get her married off,” she concludes.